For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper. You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you. Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today. When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
Thanksgiving Day often brings about memories to me of my childhood school days when the teacher talks about those first few brave men and women who forged ahead into a new world. They were searching for a new life here in the Americas, a life that would be brighter, richer, more full of possibilities. We have all termed this today as the “American Dream”. To be able to come into this nation, the nation of the United States of America where all people are able to come into this nation and make something of themselves, to provide for a family no matter their age, race, sex, gender, and so on. But is this really the American Dream that we who have been so fortunate still live for? I mean, has the American Dream taken on a new meaning than it did when these first settlers came across the Atlantic? Many of whom came for religious freedom and desired for their families to just have enough to survive. Let’s talk about this American Dream for just a moment. The definition by which I have often heard when in reference to this American Dream has not been about survival, nor has it come close to the ability to worship the LORD our God freely. But rather the American Dream has taken on the new meaning of Excess. Having more than enough, not just a little more than enough, but has not the American Dream become to own as many expensive and lavish things as possible? I am reminded of a TV show that our teens of today I am sure have all seen. It is a MTV production called CRIBS. The show is about showing off famous people’s houses and the lives they lead when they are not doing what they have done to get them to this point in their life. They take tours of people like NBA Star Carmelo Anthony to others like racecar driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. They show off homes of people who are famous rappers to those who are famous skateboarders. The true selling point of the show is if you strive for it, this…fancy cars, personal theatres, all the bling that you want… is the American Dream life you can live. From a very young age we are taught now in school, if you strive for it, you can do it. If you sacrifice, if you work hard, if you study, if you, you, you , you, then YOU can have the American Dream.
But is it God’s dream? Does God desire for us to live in riches? Well, let’s look at this passage first from Deuteronomy. “For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land flowing with streams, with springs and underground wells welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper. You shall eat your fill and bless the LORD your God for the good land that he has given you.” Hmmm…According to this passage, it certainly does seem like God desires for us to live with our needs taken care of. He brought his people up out of slavery and is delivering them to a land that is prosperous, a land that is able to take care of the needs of his people. But by whose hand do they come into this lifestyle? It does not say because you have done this this and this, you thus by your own hand gain this land that is plush and comfortable. No, these verses end by saying, “You shall eat your fill and bless the LORD your GOD for the good land that HE has given you.” It doesn’t stop there, but as we read earlier, verse 12 begins by saying, “When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, and fed you in the wilderness with manna that you ancestors did not know, to humble you and test you, and in the end to do you good.”
To sum up all that this has just said is found in verse 17 and 18, “Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.”But remember the Lord your God for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today. This covenant that we know has been fulfilled and is continually being fulfilled in Christ our Lord.
As we come to understand gifts from God, we, as the Church have come to understand these gifts as God’s Grace. Grace, often defined as the freely given, unmerited love from God. But I want to offer to you another way of understanding God’s Grace. This was given to me this earlier this month as I went to hear the Rev. Renfroe from Texas at the UMMens Retreat. He said an easy way to understand Grace is simply using this acronym, “GRACE: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense”. God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense. At who’s expense? At the expense of our money, our time, our studying, our giving, NO, at Christ’s expense. How then is it that we access this grace, this unmerited love of God if not by our own doing, our own giving. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by Grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” It is by our faith that we receive this Grace from God and this faith that God enables for us to have. Randy Maddox, a Methodist Theologian explains Grace as Responsible Grace. Grace is something that once we receive, we must be responsible with, but by God’s grace are we able to respond. This grace of God’s “inspires and enables, but does not overpower.” We, by God’s grace through the Holy Spirit, are being made into Christ-likeness, but are never forced and thus we must respond with faith.
So as we come to our Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow afternoon, we Americans will probably sit around a huge table with our family and close friends, filling our bodies with enormous amounts of food, while afterwards watching football on television. This, at least seems to be the tradition that is set forth in my own home. Maybe it is a day of hunting for some of you, or maybe you might get out and play in the yard on the brisk late November days. Sometime throughout the day, you may look around and be reminded how thankful you are to have all that you have. Thankful for the upbringing you had that pushed you to work hard in your education. Thankful that because of that upbringing and that education, you found yourself in a job that brought forth all that you have made of yourself. A job that promised raises and possibilities to promote yourself up the proverbial business ladder. Thankful that because you were able to find true love with the spouse you have. Thankful that it was because of your persistence he or she even paid any attention to you when you first met. Thankful that by your own hand, putting in long days at the office you have provided for the children that you and your loved one brought into the world. Thankful that now in your retirement, because of your success, you can now enjoy vacating from city to city throughout this world to see the things of great wonder like the Eiffel Tower, or the Great Wall of China, or the Great Pyramids, all of which humanity has made throughout all time. These are but just some of the things that we may think of as we sit down for thanksgiving dinner. So what’s so wrong with this picture of being thankful for these things? I mean I am thankful for all of these things. But Let us not forget though to whom we are thankful and go back and properly give thanks to the LORD our God. Although all these things have been done by human hands, it was God who gave us the ability, power and mind to do all these things.
As I close with my reflections around this passage from Luke, I am reminded that there are three ways to respond to God’s Grace, to God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense. We could be like the American Dream and get so caught up with our own doing that we forget that it was God who created, and God who has given. We could be like the other 9 lepers, who simply just did not give thanks to themselves or to God, and thus were not thankful at all. Or we could be like the 1 Samaritan, who lives in the present, who realizes that right now the healing grace of God had been received by faith, and goes back and prostrates himself before Christ’s feet and properly gave thanks. Let me ask you, which of these three responses will you respond with to God’s Grace at the Harvest Table?